Well, everyone, Game of Thrones is back on television, and though we here at LGG&F have decided to forego doing weekly reviews, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it on occasion and rip it a new one. Given all the previous seasons, especially Season 5, it should come as no surprise that Season 6 is just as sexist and horrible. Thus far, Season 6 has spent its two episodes reducing female characters’ development in order to build up male plotlines and engage in harmful gendered stereotypes. And hey, since we’re only two episodes in at the moment, there’s no telling how bad the show plans on getting in the future.
I remember a time back in Season 1 when I actually really liked this show. But looking back, Season 1 had a lot of faults, and those faults really would have foreshadowed the badness to come had I been less optimistic. The gratuitous nudity I simply attributed to HBO, and switching around Ned and Catelyn’s lines in certain areas I attributed to the need for change in an adaptation. That’s also how I felt about the show’s treatment of Sansa, who in the books is simply a naïve girl who believes in fantasy, but in the show, numerous scenes depict her as spoiled and bratty.
The show had the opportunity to avoid a rape scene between Daenerys and Drogo due to the character’s changed age. It didn’t take that opportunity, and instead went the opposite route over the seasons to add rape into scenes that didn’t feature rape in the books—Jaime and Cersei once again come to mind, as well as Gilly’s assault by the Nightswatch men so the show could have her reward Sam with sex for saving her. Continuously, Game of Thrones used violence against women for the sake of shock value with no regard or intention to exploring why violence against women even exists or how it affects people outside its market value—Jeyne, now called Talisa, Rob’s pregnant wife, is stabbed numerous times in her uterus during the Red Wedding and suffers a violent death that a man would not have gone through, when her character was not even supposed to be there at all. This eventually all culminated in Sansa’s brutal rape by Ramsay, and instead of the show focusing on Sansa’s trauma and Theon’s character identity, it decided to give Ramsay an arc and character development at their expense. The only time Game of Thrones really changed anything in order to avoid showcasing rape is during Tyrion’s and Jorah’s brothel scene in Essos. In the books they both commit sexual assault—Jorah forces himself on a girl who looks like Daenerys and Tyrion straight up rapes another worker who is also a young girl. But in order to show us what great people they are, Game of Thrones decided to present Jorah as a poor friendzoned man who would never do such a thing, while changing Tyrion’s scene to the sex worker attempting to give it to him for free, because he’s such a great guy, and you know, she doesn’t need the money to eat that night or anything like that. I didn’t think it was possible, but Game of Thrones, even without rape, proved that it could be just as sexist, and the same is true for Season 6.
Continuously, the show has taken every plotline from the books and changed their context and themes to such an extent that it doesn’t even feel like an adaptation to A Song of Ice and Fire anymore—and these changes are almost always to the female characters’ detriment. Of course, I can only assume that things have gotten this bad because Dan Weiss and David Benioff have admitted numerous times that they don’t listen to criticism. And now, we have Season 6, which thus far has been just as bad. Yet somehow, surprisingly, reviews have popped up proclaiming Season 6 to be a season of female empowerment, and all I can wonder is: are these people even watching the same show I am?
The Dorne plot not only completely removed Arianne Martell from the narrative, but it also turned Ellaria and the Sand Snakes into catty, volatile, and unreasonable villains to an almost comedic extent. Ellaria murders Prince Doran, because “weak men will never rule Dorne again”, and then the Sand Snakes teleport over to King’s Landing to murder Trystane. I guess kinslaying and murdering high lords in front of all his armed guards isn’t that big a deal in Westeros, and all the while the Sand Snakes are hateful to each other, calling each other names like “whore”, “slut”, and “selfish bitch”. I didn’t realize that this needs to be said, but I guess it does: female empowerment doesn’t come from women committing crimes against “weak men” and shoving each other down, especially when their actions are not thought through at all. Who the hell is going to rule Dorne now? The Sand Snakes are illegitimate. And they just started a war they cannot win. Strong female characters are characters with lots of strengths and weaknesses. They should be real people who have real problems they have to deal with, which should lead to believable growth in the process. A good female character doesn’t necessarily have to have physical strength, and they most certainly don’t have to commit thoughtless reprehensible actions because they want revenge and decided to seek out that revenge on an innocent girl who did nothing wrong.
Then there’s the death of Walda by Ramsay, who is ripped apart by dogs along with her newborn son—because that wasn’t gratuitous and unnecessary. Walda even let us know that there was an alternative. She told Ramsay that she was willing to leave the North and return to the Riverlands, and that he would never have to see her again. I half expected Ramasy to let her go, because the show has spent such a long time trying to give him depth and make him likable for some stupid stupid reason. However, he still goes ahead and kills them, because he “prefers to be an only child”. Thankfully, the camera cuts away so we don’t see the death, but we still hear it, and all I can say is that being ripped apart by dogs is something Walda most certainly didn’t deserve.
It should also come as no surprise that Sansa’s and Theon’s story thus far has made no sense, either. Sansa, while swearing Brienne into her service, actually forgets the words, even though Sansa’s strength is knowing what to say and when to say it—that’s her thing. That’s been her thing since the very beginning, and it’s what has kept her safe in many instances. Yet Theon has to remind her of what to say, and even though Theon, due to his abuse and manipulation by Ramsay, probably wouldn’t be that trusting of strangers, he’s also the one who tells Sansa that it’s okay to trust Brienne. How does he know that? These were scenes where Sansa’s character was purposefully reduced in order to build Theon up. This isn’t even touching on Daenerys’s scenes, who’s spent this season attempting to avoid rape by a Dothraki hoard while being whipped. And of course, Tyrion’s in charge of Meereen in her absence. I assume this is because he’s a white male, because literally any other character would be better fit to rule than him. But then we couldn’t have him enforce toxic masculinity by making jokes about Varys’s missing penis at every opportunity.
And it doesn’t stop there. Melisandre, it turns out, is super old without her magical necklace giving her an illusion of youth—even though we’ve seen her without it on before. Given that we find out Melisandre’s true age while she’s at her lowest point, the reveal was nothing if not ageist. If this were any other story, I would probably look at this scene as interesting and part of her depth—that she takes strength and confidence from her youthfulness only to actually feel old when she’s lost everything—but as Game of Thrones has proven incapable of handling female characters well, I cannot conclude that her age is anything more than a punishment. I cannot take this scene standing on its own, I have to look at in the context of the whole show. Game of Thrones has continuously punished women for being women—from Shae’s murder, to Sansa’s abuse, Lady Stonehart’s absence, the death of Walder’s wife, and so many more. As such, when the overly sexualized character Melisandre leads Stannis to his death and burns a child alive, only to then reach her lowest point, this moment must be read as ageist, because this is her punishment for being misled and misleading others. Considering that she undressed before revealing her age to give us a shot of her breasts, the scene was also sexist as well.
I don’t know how anyone can look at Season 6 and not see these glaring examples of sexism, let alone think that the show has been empowering women. A lack of rape does not empowerment make, and the fact that this season isn’t as gratuitous as previous seasons doesn’t spontaneously make what’s happening all right. Once again, Game of Thrones is using gendered stereotypes and clichés to tell its story, and I have no hope that things will get better.